Eligible participants are first-time non-violent juvenile offenders who have been recommended for diversion from the criminal justice system. For each of the new expansion sites (Madison County, IN; Clark County, OH), participant projections for 2017 were 55 per site, and 65 per site for 2018 and 2019. In St. Joseph County, where the program is much bigger and has been operational for several years, we are projecting 125-150 participants per year for 2017, 2018, and 2019, capping at a 150-participant maximum. To date, St. Joseph County has had 898 participants complete the program.
Reading for Life allocates the 12 weeks of the program according to the following schedule. Note that this structure is comprised of standard of care program components that are not dictated or affected by the research, but are indicated to provide background information regarding the subject matter.
Week 1: Parent meeting and assessment. Goals include:
a. Parent & student commitment
b. Parent & student baseline evaluation
c. Group construction
d. Mentor selection & assignment
Weeks 2-10: Reading & Discussion groups twice weekly. Goals include:
a. Rapport establishment
b. Virtuous character development
Weeks 9-11: Community service focus. Goals include:
a. Consideration & selection of the project
b. Development of project
Week 11: Community service project:
b. Process the project with students
Week 12: Parent meeting & assessment. Goals include:
a. Parent & student posttest evaluation
b. Student presentation of books/virtues/service project
During the first week in the program, an RFL Site Coordinator will meet with the parents and student, explain the Reading for Life program, and obtain commitment and consent for participation in the study. Referrals are randomly assigned to either the Reading for Life program or a community service diversion program by the site coordinator using a randomization tool. Approximately one-half of the youth referred to diversion in any given month will participate in Reading for Life. The other half will complete the traditional community service activities that all referred youth would have participated in to complete diversion requirements in the absence of the Reading for Life program and the study. Students and parents who consent to be in the Reading for Life program and study will be assessed by the RFL Site Coordinator. Whether or not a student consents to participate in the study has no impact on their ability to participate in Reading for Life nor does it affect the status of their case or impact their relationship with researchers or the University of Notre Dame.
Reading for Life assesses participants for reading level and places them into small, homogeneous reading groups. This serves several positive functions: alleviates the intimidation of poor-readers experience in the presence of good-readers; enables all members of the group to move at a similar pace; fosters greater group cohesion; and facilitates a community service project in which all group members can invest well. After the completion of a baseline assessment, Reading for Life staff assign students to one of three reading groups: light, medium, and heavy. These assessments are standard of care program components that are not dictated or affected by the research, but are indicated to provide background information on program operations.
During the second through tenth weeks, students (under the guidance of mentors) select reading material(s) from at least five options. They spend two 60-minute sessions each week reading some of the material, journaling on questions developed by the mentors from the readings, and discussing virtuous character implications found in the readings and their writings. Around week nine, students begin to explore community service options, again facilitated by the mentor. These projects are consistent with themes found in the book(s), and mentors use students’ suggestions as much as possible. During week 12, students and parents complete posttest assessments, and students give a presentation to their parents about their experience in Reading for Life and their community service project. This structure is part of the standard of care program components that are not dictated or affected by the research, but are indicated to provide background information regarding the subject matter.
Reading for Life uses volunteer mentors to initiate discussions about the literature, virtuous character internalization, and the community service project. Volunteers are trained to serve as mentors to the small groups. During preparation mentors read and discuss topics such as virtue ethics, mentoring best practices, adolescent development, cultural competencies, interpersonal process theory in counseling, and reciprocal teaching of reading comprehension. Volunteer mentors and the RFL, Inc. staff currently meet quarterly to discuss new readings, brainstorm new book selections, and troubleshoot any group issues. Mentors also receive monthly emails with new readings, continuing education opportunities through webinars and seminars, and discussion groups.
Control Participants: The Reading for Life program does not have the capacity to serve all eligible youth. Therefore, program staff randomly assign youth who are eligible for diversion services to either the Reading for Life program or a community service diversion program. The community service diversion program is the standard operating procedure for most juvenile justice centers that do not have access to Reading for Life, and was the only option for diversion in all sites prior to Reading for Life, Inc. For this reason, the study does not impose the control group. Rather control group participants are receiving the same services that they would have received in the absence of RFL. The research staff at LEO does not influence which youth are placed into which program whatsoever. Reading for Life chose to use random assignment methods for allocating seats in the program in anticipation of a research study. Students who are randomly assigned to the community service program will be expected to write a letter of apology to the offended person or organization as part of their diversion requirements. They will also be expected to perform 25 hours of community service, at a location of their choosing, and return with a signed form from the community service organization. In a letter that all participating parents and students receive, RFL, Inc. indicates the following expectations of students:
1. Abstinence from illegal substances (according to school records)
2. Obedience of all school rules and regulations; regular school attendance (according to school records)
3. No suspensions or expulsions from school (according to school records)
4. Obedience of all rules at home (according to parent report)
5. No new referrals (according to juvenile court records)
We expect that control group/community service students will experience a total of three contact hours from diversion staff.